Dianne's the legitimate extension of all of the good things that
have gone on before,
from Ethel Waters to Ella Fitzgerald, and Sarah and Carmen...
She is earth mother, lover, she is the hurt child, she manages to
get inside each one of those things."
Joe Williams (to Zan Stewart), Down Beat , 1997
With her strong, agile voice, rhythmic virtuosity,
and improvisational ease, Dianne Reeves was
clearly born of jazz. But music, she feels, should have "no
boundaries," so her singing draws upon a world of
influences: Africa, Brazil, and the Caribbean; gospel and
r&b; classic and contemporary pop. As with Carmen McRae and
Billie Holiday, Reeves' musicianship is tied to a powerful
storytelling instinct--one that surfaced in 1982, when her
autobiographical hit Better Days conveyed the
message of hope that sparks all her work.
A Blue Note/EMI recording artist since 1987, she
has earned a recent Grammy win and multiple nominations as well
as the admiration of Blue Note president Bruce Lundvall, who
says: "I feel better about my own legacy for signing
her." Both he and Reeves can look with pride at the vast
international audience her albums (eleven to date) have created.
It stretches from New York to London to Berlin to Brazil to
Japan, where she sings regularly at the Blue Note clubs in Tokyo,
Yokohama, and Osaka. In 1997, a return appearance at New Morning,
the pre-eminent jazz club of Paris, resulted in the best-selling
CD New Morning, issued by French Blue Note.
But the greatest tribute to her artistry comes
from the musicians-- Clark Terry, Sergio Mendes, Gene Harris,
Harry Belafonte--who have actively championed her. "Whenever
I'm around Dianne, it's special," says the great
saxophonist James Moody. "I dig her all the time."
The dignity of her singing is rooted in her
childhood. Born in Detroit in 1956 and raised in Denver, Reeves
lost her father to cancer when she was two. But the women in her
family--her grandmother, her mother (a nurse), her aunt, her
sister Sharon--helped give her an unshakable sense of fortitude. "They're
all fighters," she says. "All my life I heard
about their problems at work, which were always discussed around
the children -what someone had said, how they dealt with it.
They're amazing to me."
Music was another gift from the family. Her father
had been a singer; her mother played trumpet; an uncle, Charles
Burrell, worked as a bassist with the Colorado Symphony. Further
inspiration came from her cousin George Duke, the celebrated
keyboardist, composer, and arranger (as well as her future record
producer). As a child Reeves studied piano, the source of her
rich harmonic awareness.
Her artistic and emotional grounding helped her
bear the pressures of junior high, where she and other black
children in Denver participated in one of the first bussing
programs. Traveling to hostile white neighborhoods in the late
'60s, they found themselves thrust into a pressure-cooker of
racism, ignited mostly by parents who had been conditioned in a
less enlightened time. "It dawned on me that this was
truly ignorance--ignorance in not wanting to understand one
another," Reeves explains. Then thirteen, she joined
other students--black, white, and Hispanic--in trying to educate
their elders. She participated in sit-ins, spoke at a school
assembly, even sang in a concert organized by the children to
show how music cut across racial boundaries. "Fortunately
it all ended in a positive way," she says. "People
started to look at themselves and be kind of ashamed of the way
Listening to the radio, she began to see how pop
artists used music to tell stories about their lives. "Even
if was a song with a nice groove by Stevie Wonder or the
O'Jays," she says, "you also got a lot of
information about life." The voice itself could hold
wondrous technical possibilities, as she learned when she heard
the 1972 album Sarah Vaughan and Michel Legrand.
At sixteen, Reeves put her training on display when she sang with
her high school band at a National Association of Jazz Educators
convention in Chicago. One of the people who heard her was
trumpeter Clark Terry, who became the first in her long line of
illustrious mentors. He invited her to sing with his All-Star
groups, which included Al Grey, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis,
and Tommy Flanagan.
After a few years of singing in local clubs she moved to Los
Angeles in 1976, only to find that straight-ahead jazz singing
was at its commercial low. That's when she learned to stretch her
talent in other directions. She joined the Latin fusion group
Caldera in which she made a lasting friend: keyboardist Eduardo
(Eddie) del Barrio, with whom she has co-written some of her most
powerful songs. Reeves also sang with Night Flight, an
experimental jazz band led by pianist Billy Childs, who became
her musical director for ten years. "Billy gave me
license to go anywhere musically," she said in an
interview with Herb Wong, her first record producer. "It
wasn't just a backup group for me, it was a unified group which
gave me a basis for my future."
Wong signed her to his Palo Alto label, for whom she recorded her
first two albums, Welcome to My Love (1982) and
For Every Heart (1985) (anthologized in the Blue Note CD The
Palo Alto Sessions). During that time she wrote and
recorded "Better Days", a stirring recollection of her
grandmother. Since then Reeves has expanded the song into a
gospelish narrative about her youth. Holly Bass of the Washington
Post called it "a picture of black Southern life as
vivid as any you'd find in a story penned by Maya Angelou or J.
But at Palo Alto, she says, she still hadn't found her own voice.
"There's only one Sarah, Ella, and Carmen, and I needed
to do my own thing," Reeves told Milwaukee journalist
After moving back to Los Angeles in 1987, Reeves became the first
vocalist signed to the newly reactivated Blue Note label. In Dianne
Reeves (1987) and Never Too Far (1989) she
focused on pop-r&b, but thereafter gave her eclecticism full
reign. I Remember (1991) ranges from jazz standards
("Softly", "As in a Morning Sunrise",
"Love for Sale") to Latin jazz (Mongo Santamaria's
"Afro-Blue") to Stephen Sondheim's poignant title song.
Art and Survival (EMI, 1994), a fiery
autobiographical album of pop, soul, and jazz, includes her
gospel-tinged original Come to the River. Quiet After the
Storm (1995) offers jazz-oriented performances of songs
by Joni Mitchell, Harold Arlen, Duke Ellington, and others; the
album won a Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Vocal Performance. The
Grand Encounter (1996) features jazz giants Joe Williams,
Clark Terry, Harry "Sweets" Edison, James Moody, Phil
Woods, Toots Thielemans, and Kenny Barron. That Day (1997)
finds her in a reflective ballad mood, accompanied by a jazz trio
led by drummer Terri Lynn Carrington.
Her third Grammy nomination went to her release, Bridges
(1999), which found her back with her cousin George Duke and
all-star band with Mulgrew Miller, Billy Childs, Terri Lynn
Carrington, Kenny Garrett, and Brian Blades, performing a mixture
of originals and contemporary standards by Leonard Cohen, Peter
Gabriel and Joni Mitchell.
In the year approaching the Millennium, Dianne expanded her
creativity by joining as a guest of the Lincoln Center Jazz
Orchestra in several special Duke Ellington projects, including a
concert at the White House, a TV series on PBS and a tour of the
United States. She was also featured in a special on the CBS
Sunday Morning Show as well as with the Boston Pops on PBS' Great
Reeves once more lives in Denver, but spends much of her life on
the road. "I really believe in touring," she
says. "It's the only way you can get close to your
audience." She remains stubbornly adventurous, despite
the criticism of jazz purists. "I really try to let the
critics know: Look, you have to allow me the opportunity to grow
whether you like it or not," she says. "It's
part of who I am. It doesn't mean that I'm abandoning jazz. I've
just found different ways to say what I really feel."
Dianne's Grammy winning album, In the Moment, is the first
live album she has done and was prompted by requests from her
many fans who have been thrilled and moved by her concert
performances. She began the New Year with the release of The
Calling, Celebrating Sarah Vaughan, recorded with full
orchestra, and debuted the program at NY's Avery Fisher Hall.
Also set are appearances with the Montreal Symphony, Hollywood
Bowl and the Colorado Symphony.